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John Quincy Adams
Inaugural Address
Friday, March 4, 1825

In compliance with an usage coeval with the existence of our Federal
Constitution, and sanctioned by the example of my predecessors in the
career upon which I am about to enter, I appear, my fellow-citizens, in
your presence and in that of Heaven to bind myself by the solemnities of
religious obligation to the faithful performance of the duties allotted
to me in the station to which I have been called.

In unfolding to my countrymen the principles by which I shall be
governed in the fulfillment of those duties my first resort will be to
that Constitution which I shall swear to the best of my ability to
preserve, protect, and defend. That revered instrument enumerates the
powers and prescribes the duties of the Executive Magistrate, and in its
first words declares the purposes to which these and the whole action of
the Government instituted by it should be invariably and sacredly
devoted--to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure
domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the
general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to the people of
this Union in their successive generations. Since the adoption of this
social compact one of these generations has passed away. It is the work
of our forefathers. Administered by some of the most eminent men who
contributed to its formation, through a most eventful period in the
annals of the world, and through all the vicissitudes of peace and war
incidental to the condition of associated man, it has not disappointed
the hopes and aspirations of those illustrious benefactors of their age
and nation. It has promoted the lasting welfare of that country so dear
to us all; it has to an extent far beyond the ordinary lot of humanity
secured the freedom and happiness of this people. We now receive it as a
precious inheritance from those to whom we are indebted for its
establishment, doubly bound by the examples which they have left us and
by the blessings which we have enjoyed as the fruits of their labors to
transmit the same unimpaired to the succeeding generation.

In the compass of thirty-six years since this great national covenant
was instituted a body of laws enacted under its authority and in
conformity with its provisions has unfolded its powers and carried into
practical operation its effective energies. Subordinate departments have
distributed the executive functions in their various relations to
foreign affairs, to the revenue and expenditures, and to the military
force of the Union by land and sea. A coordinate department of the
judiciary has expounded the Constitution and the laws, settling in
harmonious coincidence with the legislative will numerous weighty
questions of construction which the imperfection of human language had
rendered unavoidable. The year of jubilee since the first formation of
our Union has just elapsed; that of the declaration of our independence
is at hand. The consummation of both was effected by this Constitution.

Since that period a population of four millions has multiplied to
twelve. A territory bounded by the Mississippi has been extended from
sea to sea. New States have been admitted to the Union in numbers nearly
equal to those of the first Confederation. Treaties of peace, amity, and
commerce have been concluded with the principal dominions of the earth.
The people of other nations, inhabitants of regions acquired not by
conquest, but by compact, have been united with us in the participation
of our rights and duties, of our burdens and blessings. The forest has
fallen by the ax of our woodsmen; the soil has been made to teem by the
tillage of our farmers; our commerce has whitened every ocean. The
dominion of man over physical nature has been extended by the invention
of our artists. Liberty and law have marched hand in hand. All the
purposes of human association have been accomplished as effectively as
under any other government on the globe, and at a cost little exceeding
in a whole generation the expenditure of other nations in a single year.

Such is the unexaggerated picture of our condition under a Constitution
founded upon the republican principle of equal rights. To admit that
this picture has its shades is but to say that it is still the condition
of men upon earth. From evil--physical, moral, and political--it is not
our claim to be exempt. We have suffered sometimes by the visitation of
Heaven through disease; often by the wrongs and injustice of other
nations, even to the extremities of war; and, lastly, by dissensions
among ourselves--dissensions perhaps inseparable from the enjoyment of
freedom, but which have more than once appeared to threaten the
dissolution of the Union, and with it the overthrow of all the
enjoyments of our present lot and all our earthly hopes of the future.
The causes of these dissensions have been various, founded upon
differences of speculation in the theory of republican government; upon
conflicting views of policy in our relations with foreign nations; upon
jealousies of partial and sectional interests, aggravated by prejudices
and prepossessions which strangers to each other are ever apt to

It is a source of gratification and of encouragement to me to observe
that the great result of this experiment upon the theory of human rights
has at the close of that generation by which it was formed been crowned
with success equal to the most sanguine expectations of its founders.
Union, justice, tranquillity, the common defense, the general welfare,
and the blessings of liberty--all have been promoted by the Government
under which we have lived. Standing at this point of time, looking back
to that generation which has gone by and forward to that which is
advancing, we may at once indulge in grateful exultation and in cheering
hope. From the experience of the past we derive instructive lessons for
the future. Of the two great political parties which have divided the
opinions and feelings of our country, the candid and the just will now
admit that both have contributed splendid talents, spotless integrity,
ardent patriotism, and disinterested sacrifices to the formation and
administration of this Government, and that both have required a liberal
indulgence for a portion of human infirmity and error. The revolutionary
wars of Europe, commencing precisely at the moment when the Government
of the United States first went into operation under this Constitution,
excited a collision of sentiments and of sympathies which kindled all
the passions and imbittered the conflict of parties till the nation was
involved in war and the Union was shaken to its center. This time of
trial embraced a period of five and twenty years, during which the
policy of the Union in its relations with Europe constituted the
principal basis of our political divisions and the most arduous part of
the action of our Federal Government. With the catastrophe in which the
wars of the French Revolution terminated, and our own subsequent peace
with Great Britain, this baneful weed of party strife was uprooted. From
that time no difference of principle, connected either with the theory
of government or with our intercourse with foreign nations, has existed
or been called forth in force sufficient to sustain a continued
combination of parties or to give more than wholesome animation to
public sentiment or legislative debate. Our political creed is, without
a dissenting voice that can be heard, that the will of the people is the
source and the happiness of the people the end of all legitimate
government upon earth; that the best security for the beneficence and
the best guaranty against the abuse of power consists in the freedom,
the purity, and the frequency of popular elections; that the General
Government of the Union and the separate governments of the States are
all sovereignties of limited powers, fellow-servants of the same
masters, uncontrolled within their respective spheres, uncontrollable by
encroachments upon each other; that the firmest security of peace is the
preparation during peace of the defenses of war; that a rigorous economy
and accountability of public expenditures should guard against the
aggravation and alleviate when possible the burden of taxation; that the
military should be kept in strict subordination to the civil power; that
the freedom of the press and of religious opinion should be inviolate;
that the policy of our country is peace and the ark of our salvation
union are articles of faith upon which we are all now agreed. If there
have been those who doubted whether a confederated representative
democracy were a government competent to the wise and orderly management
of the common concerns of a mighty nation, those doubts have been
dispelled; if there have been projects of partial confederacies to be
erected upon the ruins of the Union, they have been scattered to the
winds; if there have been dangerous attachments to one foreign nation
and antipathies against another, they have been extinguished. Ten years
of peace, at home and abroad, have assuaged the animosities of political
contention and blended into harmony the most discordant elements of
public opinion. There still remains one effort of magnanimity, one
sacrifice of prejudice and passion, to be made by the individuals
throughout the nation who have heretofore followed the standards of
political party. It is that of discarding every remnant of rancor
against each other, of embracing as countrymen and friends, and of
yielding to talents and virtue alone that confidence which in times of
contention for principle was bestowed only upon those who bore the badge
of party communion.

The collisions of party spirit which originate in speculative opinions
or in different views of administrative policy are in their nature
transitory. Those which are founded on geographical divisions, adverse
interests of soil, climate, and modes of domestic life are more
permanent, and therefore, perhaps, more dangerous. It is this which
gives inestimable value to the character of our Government, at once
federal and national. It holds out to us a perpetual admonition to
preserve alike and with equal anxiety the rights of each individual
State in its own government and the rights of the whole nation in that
of the Union. Whatsoever is of domestic concernment, unconnected with
the other members of the Union or with foreign lands, belongs
exclusively to the administration of the State governments. Whatsoever
directly involves the rights and interests of the federative fraternity
or of foreign powers is of the resort of this General Government. The
duties of both are obvious in the general principle, though sometimes
perplexed with difficulties in the detail. To respect the rights of the
State governments is the inviolable duty of that of the Union; the
government of every State will feel its own obligation to respect and
preserve the rights of the whole. The prejudices everywhere too commonly
entertained against distant strangers are worn away, and the jealousies
of jarring interests are allayed by the composition and functions of the
great national councils annually assembled from all quarters of the
Union at this place. Here the distinguished men from every section of
our country, while meeting to deliberate upon the great interests of
those by whom they are deputed, learn to estimate the talents and do
justice to the virtues of each other. The harmony of the nation is
promoted and the whole Union is knit together by the sentiments of
mutual respect, the habits of social intercourse, and the ties of
personal friendship formed between the representatives of its several
parts in the performance of their service at this metropolis.

Passing from this general review of the purposes and injunctions of the
Federal Constitution and their results as indicating the first traces of
the path of duty in the discharge of my public trust, I turn to the
Administration of my immediate predecessor as the second. It has passed
away in a period of profound peace, how much to the satisfaction of our
country and to the honor of our country's name is known to you all. The
great features of its policy, in general concurrence with the will of
the Legislature, have been to cherish peace while preparing for
defensive war; to yield exact justice to other nations and maintain the
rights of our own; to cherish the principles of freedom and of equal
rights wherever they were proclaimed; to discharge with all possible
promptitude the national debt; to reduce within the narrowest limits of
efficiency the military force; to improve the organization and
discipline of the Army; to provide and sustain a school of military
science; to extend equal protection to all the great interests of the
nation; to promote the civilization of the Indian tribes, and to proceed
in the great system of internal improvements within the limits of the
constitutional power of the Union. Under the pledge of these promises,
made by that eminent citizen at the time of his first induction to this
office, in his career of eight years the internal taxes have been
repealed; sixty millions of the public debt have been discharged;
provision has been made for the comfort and relief of the aged and
indigent among the surviving warriors of the Revolution; the regular
armed force has been reduced and its constitution revised and perfected;
the accountability for the expenditure of public moneys has been made
more effective; the Floridas have been peaceably acquired, and our
boundary has been extended to the Pacific Ocean; the independence of the
southern nations of this hemisphere has been recognized, and recommended
by example and by counsel to the potentates of Europe; progress has been
made in the defense of the country by fortifications and the increase of
the Navy, toward the effectual suppression of the African traffic in
slaves; in alluring the aboriginal hunters of our land to the
cultivation of the soil and of the mind, in exploring the interior
regions of the Union, and in preparing by scientific researches and
surveys for the further application of our national resources to the
internal improvement of our country.

In this brief outline of the promise and performance of my immediate
predecessor the line of duty for his successor is clearly delineated. To
pursue to their consummation those purposes of improvement in our common
condition instituted or recommended by him will embrace the whole sphere
of my obligations. To the topic of internal improvement, emphatically
urged by him at his inauguration, I recur with peculiar satisfaction. It
is that from which I am convinced that the unborn millions of our
posterity who are in future ages to people this continent will derive
their most fervent gratitude to the founders of the Union; that in which
the beneficent action of its Government will be most deeply felt and
acknowledged. The magnificence and splendor of their public works are
among the imperishable glories of the ancient republics. The roads and
aqueducts of Rome have been the admiration of all after ages, and have
survived thousands of years after all her conquests have been swallowed
up in despotism or become the spoil of barbarians. Some diversity of
opinion has prevailed with regard to the powers of Congress for
legislation upon objects of this nature. The most respectful deference
is due to doubts originating in pure patriotism and sustained by
venerated authority. But nearly twenty years have passed since the
construction of the first national road was commenced. The authority for
its construction was then unquestioned. To how many thousands of our
countrymen has it proved a benefit? To what single individual has it
ever proved an injury? Repeated, liberal, and candid discussions in the
Legislature have conciliated the sentiments and approximated the
opinions of enlightened minds upon the question of constitutional power.
I can not but hope that by the same process of friendly, patient, and
persevering deliberation all constitutional objections will ultimately
be removed. The extent and limitation of the powers of the General
Government in relation to this transcendently important interest will be
settled and acknowledged to the common satisfaction of all, and every
speculative scruple will be solved by a practical public blessing.

Fellow-citizens, you are acquainted with the peculiar circumstances of
the recent election, which have resulted in affording me the opportunity
of addressing you at this time. You have heard the exposition of the
principles which will direct me in the fulfillment of the high and
solemn trust imposed upon me in this station. Less possessed of your
confidence in advance than any of my predecessors, I am deeply conscious
of the prospect that I shall stand more and oftener in need of your
indulgence. Intentions upright and pure, a heart devoted to the welfare
of our country, and the unceasing application of all the faculties
allotted to me to her service are all the pledges that I can give for
the faithful performance of the arduous duties I am to undertake. To the
guidance of the legislative councils, to the assistance of the executive
and subordinate departments, to the friendly cooperation of the
respective State governments, to the candid and liberal support of the
people so far as it may be deserved by honest industry and zeal, I shall
look for whatever success may attend my public service; and knowing that
"except the Lord keep the city the watchman waketh but in vain," with
fervent supplications for His favor, to His overruling providence I
commit with humble but fearless confidence my own fate and the future
destinies of my country.

assistance of the executive and subordinate departments, to the 
friendly cooperation of the respective State governments, to the candid 
and liberal support of the people so far as it may be deserved by 
honest industry and zeal, I shall look for whatever success may attend 
my public service; and knowing that "except the Lord keep the city the 
watchman waketh but in vain," with fervent supplications for His favor, 
to His overruling providence I commit with humble but fearless 
confidence my own fate and the future destinies of my country.

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